Weighing Options After Steelers Move On From Ladarius Green

It is rather understandable that in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh Steelers releasing a player whom they signed to be a long-term starter just a year ago, there are a lot of questions being asked, and there are not enough answers to satisfy them. But the fundamental question that now surfaces is a simple one without one definitive answer: where do they go from here?

After Heath Miller retired, the Steelers gave Ladarius Green a four-year contract worth $20 million to become their new starting tight end. He was never healthy enough to be able to settle into that role, although the game in which he did get the opportunity to participate revealed a dynamic player who appeared to be what they were hoping they had signed.

After failing his physical yesterday and being subsequently released, the team still retains three tight ends from last year’s roster—in fact, the group that they spent the majority of their time working with.

Third-year tight end Jesse James is a bit of an everyman tight end that doesn’t do any one thing particularly poorly or well, but is serviceable enough that the offense can function with him playing the top role. The natural hope here is that he continues to improve.

Following James is David Johnson, who functions as their primary blocking tight end, a role that became more defined as the season evolved. He is their most physical and reliable people-mover that they have at the position.

Wrapping things up, we have Xavier Grimble, a former undrafted free agent that kicked around for a couple of years. He finally stuck on the Steelers’ practice squad in 2015 and made the roster last year. He has flashed ability, yet remains an inconsistent, and thus ultimately unreliable, option.

So what, then, are their other options? They could, of course, seek a veteran tight end, and Alex Kozora laid out some of the best possible options yesterday evening. The biggest name out there is former Browns tight end Gary Barnidge, whose numbers took a nose dive as Cleveland saw five different quarterbacks play over the course of the year behind a bad offensive line.

If they choose not to add a significant tight end and instead choose to enter the season with their in-house options, there are other things that they can do to mitigate the loss of Green. They could nurture one of their undrafted rookie tight ends, one a pass-catcher and the other a blocker.

Or they could rely upon fewer tight ends, even incorporate more three- and four-receiver personnel, which might seem especially attractive at this time given the return of Martavis Bryant and the addition of JuJu Smith-Schuster. That’s where the talent lies; it would behoove one to utilize it, after all.

A bit more specifically than simply using more wide receivers more often, we could see players like Smith-Schuster, Bryant, and perhaps Sammie Coates garnering more time playing out of the slot, which would allow the Steelers to replicate a larger, more physical presence between the hash marks, and run some of the same sorts of plays that they might have with Green with the hope of catching the defense in a mismatch.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • JamesinNYC

    I wouldn’t be upset if they brought in another TE but it should be noted James is the youngest TE on the team, so hardly impossible to believe he will improve.

  • Big White

    Options? It’s Jesse James for crying out loud.

  • Jim Foles

    Just teach him to pick up more YAC and hes golden…

  • Jack Hambert

    I’d put Gary Barnidge and JJ on the field at the same time. Big targets with good hands.

  • Bradys_Dad

    He’s not exactly a gazelle is he.

  • Jim Foles

    well in one game last year he caught the ball on the three and rolled up in a ball and was down at the 1.. he is 6 foot forever. just stretch out and get the TD.. for some reason he curls up fast after his catches and goes down…

  • Craig M

    I’m glad Green is gone, maybe now he’ll be able to live out the rest of his life in some form of normalcy instead of in a diaper caused by the concussions. May you have a good future going on sir.

  • Conserv_58

    LMAO! He’s got the worst YAC numbers of any TE in the league. Most TE’s YAC numbers are measured in yards. Jessie’s YAC numbers are measured in centimeters.

  • Mark

    I think Grimble is a better move TE than any currently on the roster. JJ doesn’t move effectively, therefore YAC ability is seriously diminished. However, I don’t Grimble spends enough time in the playbook. I would like to add Barnidge at the right price.

    However, imagine Nicks at FB with 3 WR (AB, MB, and JuJu). The defense would be unable to determine what we are going to do on offense or which direction we are running in. Our play action would be killer.

  • StillersInThe6

    maybe inside the 15 or 10.. he leaves a lot to be desired otherwise. My guess, like Matthew alluded to, is more increased WR sets, and hope Jesse can improve at the same time.

  • Big White

    I want my Tight End to be a safety valve and red zone threat, which he is both. You can keep the YAC & 40 times.

  • Big White

    Uggghhh. Throw it deep to Brown, Martavis or Coates??? Nothing wrong with James particularly at his price. Ledarius Green was a complete disaster and hopefully the Steelers appreciate what they have.

  • The Sun is Pro-Black

    He’s 6’7. Gotta protect your knees. I don’t blame him.

  • Douglas Andrews

    I like option #3 Matthew but the problem becomes trying to utilize a guy like Sammie Coates in that role. Has he rebounded from last year’s injury/ lack of confidence? also is that a strength of Sammie’s game? I don’t think i’ve seen Sammie in the slot much last year. On paper one would think it’s a great matchup for the Steelers to exploit but can Sammie make those tough over the shoulder grabs while running away from the QB? Until I see it done consistently i’m inclined to think he can’t do it.

  • Biggie

    James-Barnidge-D. Johnson > James-D. Johnson-Grimble or Orndoff or Odom

    Sign Barnidge if Agent isn’t overpricing him and put one of best of rest on PS

  • Cormel Bovan Sr.

    This Odom kid we signed looks really athletic he’s also 6’8. I’m excited to see how he looks in the preseason. He’s tall but this guy can run.

  • Jim Foles

    95% of the time he catches it he rolls up. It is like a bad habit.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Weighing options when we have a need, as fans it seems we dont look low enough,the team always seems to go one tier lower than we ever investigate, so I went lower and did find a move TE we showed interest in drafting a couple season ago thats currently a FA, Kennard Backman has 4.6 speed and fluid movement. Not saying he is the answer to our problem but he at least has the speed to be a threat down the seam, probably worth a look.

  • AndyR34

    Sane, but…why is he still a FA and why did Alex not mention him? Not an argument…just curious.

  • tcirish53@gmail.com

    Exactly – more 3 and 4 WR sets. There aren’t brownie points awarded cuz we pass to a TE vs WR!!

  • Darth Blount 47

    It’s pretty obvious that the Steelers brought in Orndorff and Odom because of the happenings going on behind the scenes with Ladarius Green. It truly is a damn shame, now in our perfected 20-20 hindsight, that we didn’t indeed address the position in the draft. Months ago I was against spending high draft capital on the position. This came after my conclusion that we weren’t cutting Green right before or during the FA period, in order to be able to designate him a post-June 1st, and have that 5 million to use back later, after we went out and got a quality veteran FA. Especially Logan Ryan. I saw no need to pay Green his salary AND take a TE high.

    But as we approached the draft, and after I had done my diligence with this particularly impressive TE class, and after all of the rumblings about us taking a decent number of Offensive players (3-4), I began to slowly change my tune. Not that I was necessarily advocating taking a TE at 30, but I was on board with making one of our Offensive selections be a TE, as I thought a true backup RB to Bell, was the only real “need” O-pick that we needed to have to make. I much preferred a TE over either a WR / QB / or obviously, OL.

    If the current TE FA pool looks more picked over and scarce, than the Thanksgiving Dinner table at the House of Klumps, that’s because it is. Would I rather us sign a FA TE instead of having to spend future draft capital in order to trade for a quality one? Yes. But when you don’t buy insurance for your car, and then you go and slide off the mountainside, you really have only yourself to blame, and you have to do what you have to do.

    If we were to look over the TE depth charts of the various NFL teams, what we ultimately see is a bunch of TE hoarding. I can see team after team who have 2 very respectable TE options, and some with 3 or more. So as much as it isn’t ideal, and as much as I think we COULD get by this year with what we have…. If Big Ben WASN’T actually advocating for a TE out of this draft (as Aditi Kinkabwallblawlalalablahblah opined)…. he damn well likely should be NOW.

    So who are the teams with acceptable options?

    San Fran: With their long-term investments in both V. McDonald and G. Celek, why not knock on the door and see if George Kittle can come out and play?
    LA Rams:
    LA Charg:

    Each of those teams have intriguing multiple TE options at their disposal.

  • Ni mo

    Barnidge is 32

  • Ni mo

    Barnidge too old

  • Bradys_Dad

    As much as it pains me (pun intended) to say it, he probably wants to be able to recite the alphabet when he’s 40. I do however understand your point 100%.

  • Bradys_Dad

    It may be worth noting that before teams have to get down to 53 there’ll be more than 1 TE on the streets that may have just got caught up in a numbers game. We don’t want discards but every once in a while that blind squirrel does find a nut.

  • Jack Hambert

    all of the ones mentioned are rentals. not getting a young quality TE at this stage. Next year, it will have to be addressed in the draft unless one of the UFAs works out.

  • Matthew Marczi

    I think people are underestimating this as a concern. He desperately needs to improve in this area. Tight ends built in the traditional mold such as he is depend upon being able to use their size in order to break through an initial tackle or two to get those extra four or five yards because so many of their targets come on short passes.

  • Matthew Marczi

    Michael Palmer managed to stick around for two years that way.

  • JT

    Couldn’t that be part of why they took JuJu though? James is a significantly better blocker than Green, and JuJu brings the YAC across the middle. Far from a perfect solution, but reasonable after the Browns sniped Njoku.

  • Shane Mitchell

    Because this is probably on a lower level than he likely looked, and back to the 2015 draft, he was on the Lions roster but was released last week, why exactly i cant say, perhaps because they drafted TE Michael Roberts in the 4th round and they have a move TE with Eric Ebron.

  • will

    FACT – 2016 YAC: Outlaw = 3.1 YARDS not the worst….far from the best. The best YAC is Leveon Bell at 9.1; AB at 3.7; Ladarius C. Green = 5.2
    Bell in the slot might be an option to replace Green on certain plays.

  • Jason

    Heath Miller was about as immobile as a tight end can be in his final couple seasons and went down immediately after contact yet he was still able to be effective by running good routes and being sure handed.

  • MattHat121

    Great post. Good basic run down of potential trade targets of teams with a plethora of TE talent, if PIT is even thinking along those lines.

  • Darth Blount 47

    Thanks. I appreciate that. I don’t think we’ll trade, but it was interesting to see just how many teams had good TE depth. I left out NE with Gronk and Allen, well… just because. Lol.

  • NinjaMountie

    I love J James. I think he has good hands. He needs to keep improving on his blocking for sure.
    I don’t know what it is with his run after catch. He looks tentative when turning up field. He actually stops at times like he’s assessing the situation. He needs to stop that. Shoot, just turning immediately and running will greatly improve his stats in this area. STOP HESITATING. lol….hope you’re reading this James!

  • Gautama Om

    We have all the offense we need that’s on the team right now. A player like Barnidge is luxury because we’re not going to be going to 2 TE formations much, if at all. This is so obvious with drafting a high pick on slot WR like Juju. You can’t have 2 TE formations and Juju on the field at the same time obviously but maybe not so obvious.

    If we’re discussing about adding a TE that’s an upgrade to James (via 4th round pick or FA) then

    1)it’s going to be a VERY negligible upgrade over a decent TE James who i will project to have about 55 receptions in 2017 (up from 39n 2016)

    2) besides how much of an upgrade on offense will any TE make on this 2017 team that has so many offensive options already (Brown, Bryant, Bell, Juju); there is only 1 ball (i.e. only a certain number of snaps)

    I can see a notch of improvement if we added a TE who’s better than James to the 2016 team that had less offensive weapons but not much (if at all) to this 2017 team.

    We have a very strong chance of going to the SB if we can do two things:

    1) get home field advantage throughout the playoffs
    2)not lose Bell to injury (we need not mention Ben because that’s automatic season over)

  • Gautama Om

    I hated this signing from the start, he’s a softie who doesn’t like to get hit. There’s many of those players now that CTE reports are out. Steelers are realizing this now by only drafting players who have a passion for the game. The days of drafting players who dont like to hit or be hit like Gerod Holliman are over.